Shut Up & Dance gets out, loud and proud for MANNA

Members of the Pennsylvania Ballet and additional local dance companies raised $157,000 (and counting) for the nonprofit organization that delivers meals to those with life-threatening illnesses.

The PA Ballet’s iconic annual event ­­— in its 27th year — took the stage of the Forrest Theatre on April 13.

The performers again put on an eclectic and anticipated show, all for the benefit of MANNA (Metropolitan Area Neighborhood Nutrition Alliance), whose nearly 7,000 volunteers provide often-lifesaving nourishment to more than 1,200 clients faced with HIV/AIDS, cancer and other debilitating illnesses.

Under the watchful gaze of the show’s producer, soloist Alexandra Hughes, the dancers leapt from a sensual neo-tango performed by Marjorie Fering and Peter Weil to the tune of Nina Simone’s “I Put a Spell on You” to a percussive, selfie-snapping “Entr’acte.”

While the ballet dancers kept things serious, they allowed the night’s hosts to take and make the pratfalls and bawdy jokes.

Drag doyen cohosts Martha Graham Cracker (Dito van Reigersberg) and John Jarboe kept up two running themes throughout — one regarding food (going along with the MANNA theme) and the other their ribald takes on “Dirty Dancing.”

“Muddy dancing. Dusty dancing. Messy dancing. Porno dancing,” said Jarboe, high atop silver sparkle pumps.

The twosome dressed as condiments after the first number — a rousing gospel mash-up of Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5” and The Contours’ “Do You Love Me?” — with introductions and moments such as their “Right by Your Side” Eurythmics cover done up in salt/pepper and ketchup/mustard garb.

“There’s got be a wiener out there in the audience,” said the garbed-as-Gulden’s-mustard Graham.

Upon asking everyone to sing the National Anthem with him, Jarboe launched into “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” and teased that “you could tell the gays from the straights” if they knew the verses.

“Hosting with Martha was a total joy,” said Jarboe after the performance. “There’s never been so much hair on the Forrest Theatre stage. Martha looked beautiful and I looked like I had just blown a unicorn …, so a pretty average Saturday. As for any difficulty: My feet hurt. And it’s really a burden having to hang out with all those dancers and have them lift us and do athletic things around us. “

Van Reigersberg countered with how much fun the event was, and how he and Jarboe have worked together for a decade.

“So it feels like our back-and-forth is pretty smooth,” he said. “I love singing with him, especially harmonizing on ‘Right by Your Side’ and ‘Time of My Life’ — totally a joy for me. I think we certainly threw ourselves into it physically. The hardest thing though, was avoiding getting kicked during the kick-line in the opener.”

Van Reigersberg also pointed out that dancer Albert Gordon “did 50 gorgeous turns to raise money for MANNA.” n

To make a donation to MANNA, go to Donations can also be mailed to 420 N. 20th St., Philadelphia, PA. 19130. For more information, call 215-496-2662.